The Grand Inquisitor and the Dark Days of the Soul

Work on my next intended post (re: salvation and sacrifice) is continuing but I’ve been distracted–temporally by work and spiritually by trials and obstacles related to my conversion. It’s that last bit I feel the need to articulate somewhere and here seems about right… I apologize if it wanders and gets hard to follow; this one is really more for me than for you.

I’ve always had an appreciation for Dostoevsky’s story of the Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov, though for different reasons at different times. Lately, however, I’ve gained a new sympathy for the titular character. As I wrestle with the difficulties currently facing me I, like the Inquisitor, find rising up within me (what I think is) a basically compassionate desire to “anti-evangelize” the truth that has been revealed, to drown out the quiet voice of the Spirit, in order to save others who are as I was.

Tuesday morning I was at the church, praying the Rosary with the hope that some measure of the great comfort I’d received from the practice would help turn me from seeing with dark eyes. Tuesday is one of the days set, traditionally, for meditation on the “Sorrowful Mysteries” which start with “The Agony in the Garden.” It is, for me, the most remarkably human moment of Jesus’ life in the Gospel and has often (despite its sorrowful tenor) been somehow uplifting for me. This time, however, it resonated in a terrible way.

Let this cup pass from me…

The little piece of Matthew 26:39 became not an object of contemplation but rather my own prayer, echoing and shaking me. I know how small my sufferings are, how little, truly, is asked of me, and yet I could not [in truth, still cannot] silence this horrible sentiment.

I do not want to be Catholic. No one should want to be Catholic. If you’re shopping for churches out of some social or loosely felt sense for spirituality, the Catholic Church is, quite frankly, a stupid choice to make. The only reason to become Catholic is the, as we put it, “movement of the Holy Spirit.” Without that, and the commitment to and cooperation with the truth that movement reveals, there is (so far as I can see) no worldly good on offer here that cannot be had more cheaply and more easily elsewhere.

This would be one of the biggest reasons why (casually so-called) heretics and schismatics confuse me so deeply. Why, for the love of God, would you want to keep the name and identity of the Church if you don’t have to (and if you’re consciously and conscientiously able to reject the Magesterium, then congratulations I’m sure the Episcopalians will be happy to have you)?

It’s also why I generally avoid efforts aimed towards “converting” atheists. The first and strongest truth of my conversion, which is found in the Catechism, is that faith requires first that one hear and recognize God’s call and then that you choose to cooperate with that Grace. Without an overwhelmingly compelling experience of the first part, the second is (as well I know) absolutely ridiculous. If you’re on step two, there’s human help to be offered but no one is going to simply talk you into it. [insert Mordor meme here]

Don’t get me wrong. When the lights are on, the grace of faith is indeed a wonderful and glorious gift. In those dark nights (and days–St. John of the Cross wasn’t as good about preparing you for those), I want to be able to go back to a faithless state. Not, to be clear, to leave faith since it presents an inversion of faithlessness (i.e., once you’ve gone down the “ridiculous” road, it’s now the other path that looks like positively moronic choice) but rather to be put back in the state of not having heard. My rejoicing might not have been so great but neither were my sorrows or longings so deep… and the great difference engine of happiness sounds like a good idea when you’re just tossing it around with Nietzsche but the reality is, excuse the vulgarity, a bitch.

…nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.

There’s the rub. Just as I could not create the grace of faith, neither can I unsee, unhear, unknow what has been given. I am caught by my cooperation with God’s will. Being so caught is an incomparable freedom when I can find the strength to conform myself to His will but, when in darkness and feeling isolated, it can be painfully confining.

So in my darkest moments, when all I can see is the suffering of this time, I understand the drive of the Grand Inquisitor to keep others away from coming to this sorry condition. I may not be able to go back to my previous state but I can keep others there [though this is, of course, based on a selfish projection].

I still have enough trust to persevere but these have not been the best of days.

I don’t really have an ending here other than to report a certain catharsis in having written this… but that’s the happiest ending I can put on this for now…

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6 thoughts on “The Grand Inquisitor and the Dark Days of the Soul

  1. You are going through something that other converts, like me, have been through. You see your own condition now in God’s Light. You are much more aware of your wounded or “blighted” state and hoping to leave the pain behind by jettisoning the vision of Right so that you do not undergo the painful transition to a healthy soul. Converts are like the drug addict who is in rehab…wanting to be free of the evil of the dependency on poison, but then secretly wishing to stay in that bath of numbing poison because it is too hard to leave it behind. Also, at this time of year, people tend toward depression, especially persons going through a spiritual change as you are…trying and failing, seeking and not finding when you want to find can be hard. But believe me when I tell you that the Father is working on you like mother who stands by her sick child, treating you with all of the divine medicines and therapeutic treatments available and proper to your condition…to STRENGTHEN you and bring you out of spiritual blindness and deadly spiritual apathy. It is critical at this time that you pray for a “clean spiritual eye” so that you can see as a spiritually-healthy person sees, and pray for a “healthy and free soul” so that you can learn to depend upon that spiritual food and other nourishment which God knows is best for your soul. Pray for healing and relief. Do not relent from the desire for healing and health. You will become stronger, more virtuous, knowing and sensing that you are closer to God. You can do it. šŸ˜‰

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  2. Say good brother, instead of joining some religion, why don’t you ask the creator to reveal himself to you. Wouldn’t a personal walk with Jesus be better than a face full of crackers?

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  3. Ivan Karamazov says;

    ā€œI believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.ā€

    So why then does Ivan remain an atheist?

    Because though he believes, he does not accept. He is not a doubter; he is a rebel. Like his own character the Grand Inquisitor, Ivan is angry at God for not being kinder.

    That is the deepest source of unbelief: not the intellect but the will.

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  4. I think I get what you are saying about how it would be easier not to have heard this call to faith, and not to have begun to see that God is in everything and behind everything. As a new Catholic, there is a lot I can identify with in this post. Becoming a Catholic was something I never intended. At one point in my life, I promised that I would never become Catholic, but I had to go back on that, because something drew me inevitably and inexorably to the church. Round about the time I made a decision to be received into the church, the lights went out, as you put it, and the sense of God’s presence left me. There have been moments when I have felt touched by God, but mostly I’ve just had to keep on going. I have struggled with the feeling that I can no longer trust myself but I can’t yet trust God. I look back in wonderment – how could I have thought for so many years that I really was in control of my life? I could feel a bit nostalgic for that phase of my life, but I also remember the frustration and anger I felt when things didn’t go the way I intended and I didn’t understand why. Thank you for the honest, thought-provoking post.

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